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London

London is full of life and greener than many think.
  • Dawn Chorus

    Another guest blog. This time, artist and sound sculpturist Marcus Coates on his recent Brighton show exploring the interplay between bird song and people, now bound for London in 2016:

    My Dawn Chorus exhibition at Fabrica in Brighton has come down now and it’s next showing at London's Wellcome Trust in 2016.

    Dawn Chorus is a celebration of birdsong and how we are connected to it in ways that aren’t obvious to us.

    In the exhibition you hear and see films of people singing the songs of birds very accurately.

    Marcus Coates recording original bird song in the field for his Dawn Chorus show.

    To show how this was done a choir performed the process live for an audience. While listening to slowed down birdsong through headphones they sang along to it. The noises they were copying were often difficult to replicate. They had to rethink how to sing, forgetting a scale of pure notes and instead exploring textures and sounds many of them hadn’t made with their voices before, like learning the sounds of a new language. 

    There was also a familiarity with these slowed down birdsongs, not just in the way they sounded but the messages they carried. A simple contact call of a coal tit when slowed down became like a wailing howl, not dissimilar to the cry of the wolf, a contact call itself. The blue tit alarm call when slowed down similarly revealed a sound we all recognise as ‘keep away’, much like a fierce dog growling.

    So next time you hear the birds in your garden, be aware that you are listening to the survival calls of the wild, the wolves are in the trees.

  • Brighton Festival. For the love of...Nightingales

    Our history and cultures are littered with nature references and so it's no surprise to find that this year's Brighton Festival has taken inspiration from the world around us.

    Musician and Brighton Festival star Sam Lee has written a guest blog all about his performances with NIGHTINGALES to share the joy he gets from nature. You can share the joy you get by joining our "For the Love of...." event in London on 17 June.

    Here's Sam's blog:

    Sam Lee

    For six short weeks around this time of year when the dusk turns to gloaming and the gloaming to dark, the land softens its throb and hustle and one of the most virtuosic singers the world has born takes to his lofty stage and commences a symphony sculpted in liquid so supple it intoxifies the spirit like a swig of crisp moonshine.

    But better that the moon doesn’t shine as legend tells us the Nightingales go shy around fulls. This spring however the lunar calendar has been consulted and Brighton Festival’s scheduled walks will be in the cover of the Downs darkest enclaves deep amongst the blackthorn where these dusky brown songsters salute to the skies. Above them passing females winding their way north from their Africa residencies are lured down by these well-landed avian bachelors.

    This rare and rather unspectacular looking bird is, as I always say, an African bird that flies to England for the summer. His song is too exotic, too magnificent, to agile and flirtatious to be British against the modesty of say a song thrush or skylark or even a skydiving snipe. Their dusk till dawn timekeeping is more of a Chicago blues bar busker full of hollers and croons and syncopated backbeats dancing, shuffling and diving. They are lonely canopy cowboys whooping a high lonesome chorus, reaching up and out in giddy pulses. Their heads arched back and proud projecting, throwing sound out across the landscape as would an imam, with prayers to the land, sonnets to the silent arenas of undulating hedgerows. This is nightingale time and I am daring to enter into a long tradition of bestial musical duetery but this time with an audience in tow.

    After a love affair with their singing a sample found its way onto an interpretation of the traditional song ‘The Tanyard Side’ I recorded a few years back. Many conversations with Brighton Festival ensued and subsequently an unexpectedly successful BBC R4 mini doc ‘Singing With The Nightingales’ aired last May to celebrate 90 years of outside broadcasting after Elgar’s favourite cellist Beatrice Harrison’s iconic duet with the birds made radio history.

    Sam Lee performing on stage with Omer Ihas

    Suddenly nightingales, which are today dropping in numbers at horrific rates, are very ‘Du Jour’ (or more accurately ‘Du Nuit’) and so this year, with an avian and migratory theme at the festival, the dream role has fallen on my shoulders to be the songful guide of six unique nocturnal safaris; to seek out some class singers and share in a symbiotic musical exchange other ancient folk songs I have gathered as a singer and song collector that speak of the land, of bird worlds and of the relationship that man has with nature. Some very special musical guests have also been invited to join these excursions and a promise of the most exquisite musical journey has been made. Who knows what will happen, who knows if they will sing. So far their artist contracts have not be signed or returned and with such delicate feathered beasts, as with all of nature, one can never be too sure what will happen.

    Sam Lee's Nightingale Walks will take place on Wed 13 - Fri 15, and Tue 19 - Thu 21 May, 9pm until late as part of Brighton Festival. For more information visit http://brightonfestival.org/event/5857/sam_lees_nightingale_walk/

     

    We are blessed to have nightingales in the south east of England, and who knows, maybe we'll get some venturing into London this year. We have one of the most important sites in the country for nightingales in Kent, which is currently under threat of development. Read more about our campaign to save the nightingales and the Lodge Hill sites other scarce wildlife here.

  • Pre-valentine day celebration of our Love for Nature

    The places we all cherish have this February moved a step closer to safety, thanks to a couple of Government decisions.

    These important pockets of land, so vital for nature and recreation or simply tranquil spots where people can meditate on life, are under increasing pressure as we struggle to meet the demands of a growing population.

    Sites of Special Scientific Interest [SSSI] are some of the UK’s finest examples of landscapes which support rare and threatened species. You’d think these jewels would be well and truly protected from development.

    On Thursday 12 February the Infrastructure Act 2015 received Royal Assent: a complete exclusion on developments for fracking in protected areas is now law! The precise list of protected areas will be defined in secondary regulations by 31 July. It’s expected to include National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and SSSIs.

    Having said that, the original decision to ban fracking "within and under" protected areas was overturned the week before. We will work to restore the original definition before July 31. The sensitivity and special features of many SSSIs are more than skin deep. Ecosystems like chalk streams, for example, could be particularly vulnerable to impacts such as water abstraction or pollution. So there is obviously more work to be done here to secure “protected” areas from unsuitable uses.

    Friday 13th proved lucky for us, as late in the afternoon, the Department for Communities and Local Government announced they were “calling-in” planning consent granted by Medway Council for 5000 homes (and supporting infrastructure) to be built on a SSSI site at Lodge Hill in Kent.

    What this means is that the objection we lodged in partnership with other conservation organisations, backed by more than 12,400 people, has raised sufficient Government concern that they want to examine Medway Council’s decision in detail.

    The RSPB’s Director of Conservation, Martin Harper, says: “This is about the future of England’s finest nightingale site. Through an inquiry we hope and expect that this development will be rejected and the future of this Site of Special Scientific Interest and all other SSSI’s in the country will be secured. The important issue of housing allocation in North Kent should proceed without impacting on nationally-important wildlife sites.”

    Medway Council’s proposal would destroy 144 hectares of the SSSI, one of the largest losses of a SSSI since the Wildlife and Countryside Act came into force in 1981. The decision is also in direct conflict with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

    Lodge Hill includes flower-rich grassland and ancient woodland. We don’t yet know exactly what does live on the site. It was a Ministry of Defence base, so access was limited and the surveys that have been conducted were not detailed. We do know that, apart from its sizeable nightingale population, the site is also home to one of England’s rarest butterflies, the Duke of Burgundy. Red shanked carder bee and grizzled skipper butterflies, both also species of conservation concern, have also been recorded at Lodge Hill.Aerial views of Lodge Hill